by GLEN W. NORTON
Comment Ça va?: Un-writing the Image
Comment ça va?, another film co-directed with and starring Miéville, is also about learning to see, drawing upon Iessons learned in Ici et ailleurs. It is about finding our place within the global chain of images, and about how text and image can work together to either help or hinder this. The film takes as its focal point the still photo of a man (who may or may not be) shouting at a barricade of solders - The flim deals with the necessity of writing about this image - not only in a critical manner but also in an expository one, as a journalist, a producer within the global chain of images. The joumalist in this film has the same problem Godard had in 1970: he has a pre-conceived notion of what the image in question is saying. He knows beforehand the image is about the Portuguese revolution, therefore he "reads" the image accordingly, and writes:
The image of these soldiers in uniform, already an army for the people, whistling the international, surrounded by 20,000 people, is going to weigh heavily on the process.
But if, as the film suggests, "writing is blind work, hands can't see", one must look first, not let others control our Iook before one actually sees. From this one image, the journalist's associate, Odette (Anne-Marie Miéde) begins to iook in order to Iearn to see:
If I look at this picture, I see a civilian with a rather violent expression, which causes the other to raise his fist. Then there seems to be a row of solders - some fists raised but it doesn't seem very collective. One doesn't know what the relationship established is.
To see, then, involves much more ambiguity than one might think. To see, the receiver must do his/her own analysis first (with all the available weapons of memory and history) rather than be directed by someone else's 'look", which in this example takes the form of written text. The position of this "someone else" (namely the position of the journalist) must necessarily divide the effect of seeing the image from an interpretive discourse; as Baudrillard puts it, this is like having "'your eyes glued to the images, and your pen somewhere else".
This separation of words and images is something Godard takes great interest in. For instance, Yosefa Loshitzky claims that "the principal opposition of the film is . . . between the hands (writing) and the gaze (reading)". A clearer way to understand this opposition would be to say that the film operates within the "between", between the hands (writing) and the gaze (seeing). Seeing, as has already been shown, involves much more than reading; seeing works "in between" time (memory) and space (the pro-filmic), using one's own look rather than reading the look of someone else.
As Odette and the journalist listen to other people's recorded thoughts about the photo, another similar image slowly fades in to replace it. "Why the fuck is that photograph here?" shouts the journalist. 'Try to remember," replies Odette. And indeed he does remember - the new photo is one taken at a striking factory in France four years previous. The new photo is a memory, then, of the Portuguese image, a memory triggered by the Portuguese image. To begin to see the link (of the chain) between them, Odette super imposes one on top of the other in order to show not only their similar composition, but their sumilar ideological content. "Why don't you write what the image reminds you of so the reader can know where he is?" she asks the jounialist. To write about an image, then, more than revealing its "inherent" meaning, should reveal something about the relationship of that image to others in terms of memory, history, and the global chain of images.
The Sound of ideology
Sound, too, like text (or even sound as text) can prevent the immediacy of seeing an image. In Ici et Ailleurs, Godard uses the notion of sound as a metaphor symbolising an a priori interpretation of images by outside forces, usually a politically motivated third party beyond the notion of an image/receiver comection, Godard admits that this is what happened with the images from Jusqu 'à la Victoire. Godard and Gorin were controlling the gaze for their own political gain, "shouting" so loudly over the images that even they themselves could not really see what they had filmed. They had decided, well before any image was shot, just what their images would signify, a signification designed, and therefore assumed, to be absolute, direct, and unmistikable.
An exploration into the disruption of a pure image/receiver connection must use a method mirroring one's immediate and primary viewing (without, of course, ever king able to return to its innocence), and take into account the context (i.e. image chain) in which it is seen. A chain of three images fiom Ici et Ailleurs reveals how different aspects of social and political elements (all masquerading as sound) can suppress or overthrow the immediacy of the image:
1. Image of a man playing pinball:
The sound of the pinbali machine is quite loud compared to the sound of the people in the background. Drawing some conclusions upon our first look at this image, we might say that this could represent leisure time, or possibly the sound of memory/history, namely Godard's own film history.
2. Image of woman scrubbing the floor:
The woman turns up the radio to drown out machines in background. One might conclude that this represents work, as opposed to the previous shoot of leisure. This, then, could be the opposite image of memory: an image of forgetting, Forgetting work by turning up the volume of something else.
3. Image of man in taxi:
This man also turns up the radio to drown out the (other) men at work around him. This too is work, but now in the public sphere. One sees here the fact that men working use sound to distance themselves fiom each other.
In these examples, to tuni up the sound really involves two movements, or as Godard puts it, "two noises that move in relation to one another". One noise is used to drown out another noise, and this happens both publicly and privately, at work and at home (as when the daughter turns up the sound of the TV, drowning out the "noises of the school and the famiIy'). We are now beyond simple image-making and into the realm of socio- politiced interaction, a notion Godard seems reluctant to separate from the images themselves. Indeed, the intertextuality of these images questions whether or not there can be a notion of "pure" viewing at all, untainted by any third party beyond image and receiver. Much work has been done revealing just how deeply ingrained ideology is in image constmction, and even though Godard attempts to circumvent this, Ici et Ailleurs is in no way immune to an ideological reading. Any image is a pre-coded image; simply filming an image in a certain way embodies a certain ideology of course, the film asks us to see for ourselves rather than assume an already-chosen position (physical, ideological, political, spiritual) mirrored, through ideological interpellation, as our own. AIthough notions of images "speaking for themselves" may still be somewhat naive, Godard nonetheless makes a great stride with this film toward understanding not only how images can be defiled, but how he had contributed to a major part of the problem. The solution Godard eventually comes up with, beginning most forcefully with Numéro Deux, attempts to circumvent the problem by decomposing the image altogether, destroying the notion of its inherent, denotative meaning.
Numéro Deux: Beginning to Remember
The dornain of Numéro Deux is family life; an extended family (grandparents, parents, children) is analysed from the perspective of their relationships toward each other and society as a whole. With the aid of (what were then) new video techniques, Godard helps us to see the movement in between these relationships. The beginning of the film places Godard in front of the camera, talkhg about, amongst other things, what he believes the role of language to be in his work. In language, he says, there is movement, and in his work he highlights this movement through the use of puns which "slide", which cause "short-circuits" and "interference" in language. This is the "in between", where language "slides" between one word and another, one image and another. And this is where Numéro Deux exists: in the "+", in the "and" between all the binary relationships in the film: image and sound, image and text, male and female, husband and wife, parents and children, personal and political, sex and politics. And thk is where Godard's cinema exists as well, amongst a chah of signifiers continually sliding behind one another in a game of hide and seek with the object of cinema. It is the unfuring of the image which is at stake here, not of the image itself but of its signified, which is now relegated to a chain of signifieds all at once, a concept even more extreme than proposed in Ici et Ailleurs. If Ici et ailleurs is a blueprint for the representation of social interaction without repressive image construction, Numéro Deux is its fruition, a film which extends itself to the factory and to the landscape, the basic dichotomy of the film. A little girl wonders if her father is a factory or a landscape -- two diverse images, which, by incorporating video techniques into the film, can be compressed into one.
Video allows for more than one image to be on the screen at the same time; Godard achieves this by running images on two or more video screens at once and then shooting these screens together on film. But again, two images are not meant to produce dialectical synthesis - they are simply spatial and temporal links in the chain of images.
This two-image technique is used powerfully during a sequence involving the grandmother. Here the event of household chores is rendered in time as weil as in space, starting with a single image of the grandmother pealing potatoes. There is a cut, and this image is replaced by one of her making the bed. Added to this in the top right-band corner is a repeat of the previous image. There is a cut to her scrubbing the floor, and again the previous image of bed-making is repeated in the top right-hand corner. The images are repeated, doubled like memories of things that wilI surely happen again and again, things such as cooking and cleaning. Past and present become one and the same.
A more complicated image chain begins with the single image of a woman sitting at her kitchen table, smoking and drinking- she fights with her husband, who leaves for work, then tells her son she "hasn't shit for two weeks". There is a cut to a double image: in the top right-hand corner of the flame, the woman is sitting at her table, looking depressed, smoking and drinking as in the previous image; on the left, the image of her bedroom - she enters, throws herself on the bed, and begins to masturbate. Her husband comes in and asks her if she needs help; she tells him to get out. The sound during this double image comes from two sources: synchronous sound from the image of the bedroom, and the woman's voice-over describing how, upon arriving home, she is aggravated and needs to "relieve herself".
Numéro Deux, then, permits a greater freedom to explore various formations of image-chains. A chain becomes infinitely more flexible by embracing two or more images on the screen at once, working its doubling effect, dividing and enhancing itself through space and memory. This is an exploration of memory through the infant technology of video; not surprisingly, then, the next step in Godard's exploration of filmic memory would concentrate on children.
excerpt from CRITICAL THEORY AND JEAN-LUC GODARD'S PHILOSOPHY OF THE IMAGE by GLEN W. NORTON